Published: Sun, September 16, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Expert gives up hope ailing whale is alive

Expert gives up hope ailing whale is alive

Response teams in both the US and Canada have been following the sick, young orca for months, even treating her with antibiotic darts. The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network and airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are on the lookout, he said.

J50 was part of the same family group as a mother orca who gained worldwide attention earlier this year for carrying her dead newborn, in an apparent display of mourning, for 17 days.

Balcomb said he has a boat out looking for her and would join in the search later in the day to make an official announcement.

The 3-year-old whale was last seen Sunday at Lime Kiln Point on the western shore of San Juan Island.

"Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast".

In August, another killer whale known as J35 was seen carrying the carcass of her dead calf for about two weeks. The experts now have authorization to intervene with medical treatment in both USA and Canadian waters once the critically endangered orca shows up again in the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest. The southern residents have not had a successful pregnancy in three years. Always small for her age, she got the name Scarlet from deep rake marks near her dorsal fin, a sign, researchers believe, that she was pulled out of her mother by other whales in a midwifed birth because she was in a breech position. Her "peanut head" became more pronounced as the layers of fat disappeared from the base of her head.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA launched a massive cross-border search effort Thursday.

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If J50 is dead, it's the second major loss for her pod this summer.

Experts had been preparing last-ditch efforts to save the almost 4-year-old, emaciated whale that included the possibility of capturing and treating her. Debate swirled over whether the agency should act, or why it hadn't acted sooner, and the ethics of such extreme intervention.

The southern resident killer whales don't have enough chinook salmon, the staple of their diet. Of the 11 babies born between December 2014 and January 2016, only four now are known to still be alive.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries service reported on September 8 that J50 was seen the day before at times "lagging a half-mile to a mile behind the rest of her family". "They were really sweet together", Giles said.

"The message brought by J50, and by J35 and her dead calf a few weeks ago, is that the [the whales] are running out of reproductive capacity and extinction of this population is looming", the group wrote. Another option at that point would be holding her in a marine net pen in Puget Sound for a short time for rehabilitation and medical care before returning her to the wild to reunite with her family.

The young orca, once known for her propensity to breach by launching her body out of the water, has become sickly and emaciated in recent months.

"She was like this little Energizer bunny that just keeps going and going, and definitely captured our hearts", he said.

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